Archive for September, 2015

China: Killer mail Bomb Blitz Kills Seven in Guangxi Province — 17 Explosions — Building collapsed

September 30, 2015

Terrorism in China? Police arrest male suspect linked to the blasts that killed at least seven people and left buildings damaged across county in Guangxi

By Mimi Lau in Guangzhou
South China Morning Post

Bombs hidden in courier parcels delivered to various locations across a county in Guangxi province exploded yesterday, killing at least seven and injuring dozens ahead of the seven-day National Day holiday.

The blasts occurred at the seat of Liucheng county, in the city of Liuzhou, and its surrounding areas, with the first bang heard at around 3.50pm, state media Xinhua reported. Five people died at the scene.

Local police said they had launched a criminal investigation and identified a 33-year-old male suspect, surnamed Wei, from Dapu township. The blasts were triggered by explosive devices hidden in express delivery packages, police said.

Nanguo Zaobao reported that Wei had since been arrested.

Dozens of people were injured in the blasts. Photos: Weibo

There were at least 17 blasts, media reports said, with targets of attack including the Dapu township government office, supermarkets, malls, a hospital, prison, bus terminal, an animal husbandry staff dormitory and a centre for infectious disease and prevention.

Explosions also occurred in other areas around Liuzhou, the media said, citing the city’s public security department.

People rush to the aid of those injured. Photos: Weibo

More than 50 people were injured in the blasts and two people missing, but the authorities had ruled out a terrorist attack, China National Radio reported, citing police information.

On Dapu’s Dongcheng Road – one of the blast sites – part of a building had collapsed. Nearby vehicles were also damaged.

A provincial government building (left) and a vehicle damaged in the blasts. Photos: Weibo

“I was sitting in my shop when I heard a sudden loud bang. I was in shock … My hair was flying in the air from the shock waves,” said Li Acheng, 30, owner of a fruit store 350 metres from the collapsed building.

“Some windows in my shop broke. I walked outside to see what had happened and was almost hit by a falling window from the third floor.

“I saw half of a building nearby collapse.

Internet users shared photos of the collapsed building on Weibo. Photos: Weibo

“We were all very shocked and thought it might be an act of terrorism. All shops were closed and the town is under curfew with police guarding every street … It was very scary with so many attacks in just over an hour.”

Li and his family left the town for a nearby village, fearing further attacks.

Pictures online showed injured victims, damaged buildings, and wrecked vehicles.

A witness told Thepaper.cn that she heard sounds of explosions while shopping at a mall for electrical appliances.

She remained traumatised by the shock of the blasts even hours later, she told the online news portal, and ran to a nearby field beside a river bank, refusing to return home.

Speaking at a press conference, Liucheng county public security political commissar Cai Tianlai said a total of 60 suspicious courier parcels had since been identified after reports from members of the public.

The suspicious parcels were being guarded, pending processing by a bomb squad, according to China News Service.

Local authorities had activated their emergency response mechanism and the local safety administration had sent out an emergency alert, saying the series of explosions had been triggered by parcel bombs and warning the public not to open parcels, Nanguo Zaobao reported.

Vietnam Jails Journalist Accused of Spying For China

September 30, 2015

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A Vietnamese journalist who worked for a government-run newspaper received a six-year prison sentence on Wednesday in Hanoi on charges of spying for China, his attorney said.

Ha Huy Hoang, 55, who worked for the publication World and a newspaper published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was arrested in October 2014 for providing information to China.

The Hanoi prosecutor’s office charged him with espionage under Article 80 of Vietnam’s criminal code, Hoang’s lawyer Ha Huy Son told RFA’s Vietnamese Service after the trial ended in the morning.

During the trial, Hoang testified that he was told to say what the investigators wanted him to say and that the investigation report did not reflect what he actually had said, according to Son.

The attorney also noted that prosecutors failed to prove two key points. First, they did not provide evidence that Hoang provided documents to China, and that China used the information against the Vietnamese government.

In May 2014, China placed its biggest oil rig near Vietnam. After a dangerous two month standoff, anti-China riots in Vietnam led to China’s withdrawal of the rig.

Prosecutors also did not prove that Hoang really wanted to help China in any efforts directed against the Vietnamese government, he said.

“They could not prove these two points, Son said. “What they had was only based on what the defendant said during the investigation process. According to Article 12 of our litigation law, a defendant’s statements provided during the investigation process cannot be regarded as the only evidence in court.”

State newspapers removed articles about the trial from their websites in the afternoon.

According to state media, in 2009, Hoang was introduced to a Chinese journalist who worked for a newspaper run by the Chinese Communist Party.

He provided the journalist with information about Vietnam’s internal affairs as well as the country’s high-ranking officials, and received gifts from the Chinese press during six visits to the nation.

Vietnam and China have been engaged in a lengthy dispute over sovereignty of the Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea.

Last year, Vietnam vehemently opposed the stationing of a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters, which caused minor maritime confrontations and deadly rioting on Vietnam’s mainland.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

http://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/vietnam-jails-journalist-accused-of-spying-for-china-09302015130324.html

Vietnamese protesters shout slogans in front of the Chinese embassy during a rally in Hanoi, May 11, 2014. AFP photo

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China’s claim to sovereignty in the South China Sea is not as clear in  international law as china says. See:

 

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Petraeus Says Putin Trying to Resurrect the Russian Empire, Starting in Syria — “Syria is a geopolitical Chernobyl”

September 30, 2015

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The real danger facing the United States today is Russia’s military intervention in Syria,retired US General David Petraeus warned.

The former commanding general of US forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan said during a testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to revive the Russian Empire in Syria.

“I think that what Vladimir Putin would like to do is resurrect the Russian empire,” he said.

Petraeus likened the situation in Syria with a deadly nuclear disaster.

“Syria is a geopolitical Chernobyl – spewing instability and extremism over the region and the rest of the world,” Petraeus said, referencing the 1986 nuclear meltdown in the former Soviet Union.

“Like a nuclear disaster, the fallout from the meltdown of Syria threatens to be with us for decades, and the longer it is permitted to continue, the more severe the damage will be,” he added.

US President Barack Obama met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, for an hour and a half in New York City on the side lines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting on Monday.

An official source in the US administration said that Obama and Putin disagreed about the role Syrian regime President Bashar Al-Assad should play in finding a solution to the conflict.

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/21342-petraeus-accuses-putin-of-trying-to-resurrect-the-russian-empire-in-syria

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The Associated Press

MOSCOW — The latest developments as Russia and other nations counter Islamic State militants in Syria. All times local:

6:25 p.m.

Former CIA director, Gen. David Petraeus, has said he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s immediate objective in Syria is to solidify the corridor on the Mediterranean coast between Latakia where he has an air base and Tartus where he has a Russian naval base.

As he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Petraeus said Putin also wants to help Syrian President Bashar Assad solidify his grip on the country, which has been increasingly challenged in recent months by the Islamic State and other opposition groups.

Petraeus warned against partnering with Russia, Iran and Assad against IS and said the U.S. should deter any action by Russia involving any of the forces backed by the U.S.

“If Russia wanted to fight ISIS, they could have joined the 60-plus member coalition that Gen. Allen has so capably put together and help drop bombs on ISIS. They have some capabilities that would be useful to that fight so this is clearly not what they’re up to,” he said.

French Rafale fighter jets flying towards Syria as part of France’s Operation Chammal launched in September 2015 in support of the US-led coalition against Islamic State group (French Army/ECPAD via AP)

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6:15 p.m.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein says she thinks it’s possible that Russia’s move in Syria could be a positive development.

Feinstein, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said help from “Russia and Iran in a political solution for Syria is important.”

Feinstein said the key is to defeat the Islamic State group and then to hold an election in Syria, and that the U.S. should cooperate with Russia.

She said it was important to “change the dynamic” because IS continues to encroach on other states.

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6:05 p.m.

A senior U.S. official says Russia’s airstrikes in Syria did not appear to be targeting the Islamic State group, but other opposition groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The official said IS militants are not in the western part of the country, beyond Homs, where the Russian strikes were directed.

The official was not authorized to discuss the Russian airstrikes publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Russia notified the U.S. about the impending airstrikes through the embassy in Baghdad about an hour before they started, the official said.

According to the official, there were no conflicts with the Russian strikes, and they had no impact on the coalition missions, which are primarily in the north and east.

The U.S. is still trying to assess the damages of the Russian strikes.

—By Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burn in Washington.

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5:50 p.m.

A U.S.-backed Syrian rebel group has claimed that Russian warplanes have hit its positions in central Syria.

The group, known as Tajamu Alezzah, wrote scornfully on Twitter Wednesday that “eradicating terrorism appears to begin with attacks” on its locations in the central city of Latamna in the province of Hama.

The group, which boasts of having TOW missiles, didn’t provide specific details on the targets or how it can ascertain the strikes were by Russian jets.

Washington has equipped and trained a number of moderate Syrian rebel groups but most have been crushed by al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria.

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5:45 p.m.

Russia’s foreign minister is telling the foreign ministers of world powers that his country is “ready to forge standing channels of communication to ensure a maximally effective fight against terrorist groups” with the United States and other countries.

Sergey Lavrov spoke Wednesday to the U.N. Security Council shortly after Russia’s defense ministry announced its jets are carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State group positions in Syria.

Lavrov said Russia would shortly circulate a draft council resolution to promote joint efforts against groups like the Islamic State.

Lavrov addressed the council during a major U.N. gathering of world leaders. Russia is chairing the meeting as the council president this month.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also is expected to address the meeting.

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5:35 p.m.

A Syrian military official says Russian warplanes have targeted positions of the Islamic State group in central Syria.

Syrian state TV quotes an unnamed military official as saying that the air raids are part of the “Russian-Syrian agreement to fight international terrorism and wipe out the Daesh organization.”

The official used an Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State group.

The official said on Wednesday that the air raids targeted the extremists’ positions in central Syria including the areas of Rastan and Talbiseh, as well as areas near the town of Salamiyeh in Hama province.

The official said the Russian airstrikes were in cooperation with the Syrian air force.

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5:00 p.m.

Pentagon’s press secretary says Defense Secretary Ash Carter has instructed his staff to talk to Russian officials about how to keep each other’s air operations in Syria from colliding or getting in each other’s way.

Peter Cook said it was not yet clear when these talks would start or who would participate.

Russia’s defense ministry earlier Tuesday said its jets have started carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State group positions in Syria.

A U.S. led coalition has been targeting IS militants in Syria and Iraq since last year.

Russia and the U.S. are at odds over the Russian involvement because Washington has said Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is a key ally of Moscow, must be removed from power.

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4:20 p.m.

Russia’s defense ministry says its jets are carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State positions in Syria.

The ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian news agencies on Wednesday that Russian jets are carrying out targeted airstrikes on the positions, vehicles and warehouses that Russia believes belong to IS militants.

Earlier Wednesday, Russia’s upper chamber of parliament gave the green light to President Vladimir Putin’s request to use Russian forces in Syria. A Kremlin official said the move was to protect Russia’s national security, since at least 2,400 Russians have gone to fight in Syria or Iraq.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is a key ally of Moscow.

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U.S. Defense Secretary: Russian Air Strikes Not Hitting Islamic State Fighters — John Kerry: “The Russian approach is doomed to fail.”

September 30, 2015

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attends the United Nations Security Council, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, at the U.N. headquarters. During the meeting, Kerry delivered remarks encouraging the international community to end the conflict in Syria. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday that the Russian airstrikes in Syria appear to have targeted areas that do not include Islamic State fighters, a development which Secretary of State John Kerry said would cause “grave concern” for the United States.

Kerry told the United Nations Security Council that the U.S. would not object to Russians hitting Islamic State or al-Qaida targets but airstrikes just to strengthen the hand of Syrian President Bashar Assad would be worrisome.

“It does appear they were in in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces,” Carter said of the Russian airstrikes, using an alternative acronym for Islamic State. He would not go into more detail.

The top national security officials spoke as Russia launched its first airstrikes in Syria targeting what it said were Islamic State positions. On Wednesday, some U.S.-backed rebel groups claimed they were hit by Russian airstrikes but those claims could not be confirmed.

Carter said the strikes highlight a contradiction in Russia’s approach. He said the Russians should not be supporting the Assad government, and their military moves are “doomed to fail.”

Carter also expressed disappointment that the Russians did not use formal channels to provide the U.S. with advance notice of its airstrikes, but instead sent an official to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

“By supporting Assad and seemingly taking on everyone who is fighting Assad, you’re taking on the whole rest of the country of Syria,” Carter said. “That is not our position. At least some parts of the anti-Assad opposition belong in the political transition going forward. That’s why . the Russian approach is doomed to fail.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the new action “calls into question their strategy, because when President Putin and President Obama had the opportunity to meet at the U.N. earlier this week much of their discussion was focused on the need for a political transition inside Syria.”

Kerry said Russian operations must not support Assad or interfere with those of the U.S.-led coalition that is already attacking Islamic State targets. He called for an urgent start to military-to-military talks to prevent any kind of conflict between Russia and the coalition, suggesting they begin this week.

“If Russia’s recent actions and those now ongoing reflect a genuine commitment to defeat (the Islamic State) then we are prepared to welcome those efforts and to find a way to de-conflict our operations and thereby multiply military pressure on ISIL and affiliated groups,” Kerry said. “But we must not and will not be confused in our fight against ISIL with support for Assad.”

“Moreover, we have also made clear that we would have grave concerns should Russia strike areas where ISIL and al-Qaida affiliated targets are not operating,” he said. “Strikes of that kind would question Russia’s real intentions fighting ISIL or protecting the Assad regime.”

Kerry also said the U.S.-led coalition would “dramatically accelerate” its efforts.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov followed Kerry, saying Russia is ready to “forge standing channels of communication to ensure a maximally effective fight.” He listed countries with a key role to play in resolving the chaos in Syria, including Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar , the U.S. and China.

Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority President, Says He’s No Longer Bound by Oslo Accords — Israel’s Netanyahu Says Abbas Encourages Incitement, Violence

September 30, 2015

AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on September 20, 2015. AFP Photo

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out Wednesday at Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who told the UN General Assembly his side could not remain the only one committed to agreements.

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“Abu Mazen’s speech is deceitful and encourages incitement and destruction in the Middle East,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

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The New York Times

Demonstrating a new level of tension withIsrael, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority declared Wednesday that it was no longer bound by the Oslo Peace Accords and subsequent agreements that formed the basis for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his annual General Assembly speech, Mr. Abbas accused Israel of having violated these pacts, which date back two decades and outline security, economic and other arrangements in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel during and after the 1967 war. He asserted that there was no reason that the Palestinians should remain faithful to them as long as the Israelis were not.

Therefore, Mr. Abbas said, “we cannot continue to be bound by these signed agreements with Israel and Israel must assume fully all its responsibility as an occupying power.”

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John Kerry: U.S., Iran holding talks on possible prisoner exchange

September 30, 2015

Updated 2:20 PM ET, Wed September 30, 2015

Washington (CNN)  Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged for the first time that the U.S. is having talks with Iran that could include a possible prisoner swap, in an interview with CNN’s Elise Labott that aired Wednesday.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also recently told CNNthat the two countries are talking, and laid out his terms for such a deal. Iran and the U.S. recently struck a nuclear agreement meant to curb the country’s nuclear ambitions.

Asked if talks on the Americans being held were making progress, Kerry said he has “raised them in all of our sessions. We’ve had a lot of conversations. We are continuing those conversations now.”

Kerry did not reject the idea of a swap, though he would not discuss the details of the ongoing conversations, saying only, “I am hopeful that the day will come soon — obviously sooner rather than later — but soon when all of our citizens can come home.”

There are three Americans known to be held in Iran: Washington Post journalist and dual Iranian-American citizen Jason Rezaian; Amir Hekmati, a former Marine; and Saeed Abedini, an Iran-born American Christian pastor. In addition, Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent and contractor for the CIA, who is missing after visiting the country in 2007. Iranian officials have denied any knowledge of Levinson’s whereabouts.

RELATED: Iranian leader: Release our prisoners

In a portion of the interview that aired Tuesday, Kerry called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement in Syria a possible “opportunity” for the United States.

Yet his message sounded somewhat different the next day after Russia carried out a bombing mission Wednesday inside Syria that may not have targeted ISIS, according to a senior U.S. administration official. Instead, some have said the moves seem more indicative of support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom the U.S. has called on to leave office.

Speaking Wednesday at a U.N. Security Council meeting, Kerry warned that while the U.S. welcomes “genuine efforts” to fight ISIS, also known as ISIL, “we must not be confused in our fight against ISIL with support for Assad.”

“Moreover, we have also made clear that we would have grave concerns should Russia strike areas where ISIL and al Qaeda affiliated targets are not operating,” he added. “Strikes of that kind would question Russia’s real intentions fighting ISIL or protecting the Assad regime.”

Kerry insisted that U.S.-led airstikes against ISIS in Syria “will continue” undeterred, regardless of Russian actions in the same skies.

On Tuesday, Kerry predicted to CNN that Russia’s presence in Syria means Moscow could find itself in a “complicated” situation that could affect its policy toward the war-torn country and its leader, President Bashar al-Assad.

“If he’s going to side with Assad and with Iran and Hezbollah, he’s going to have a very serious problem with the Sunni countries in the region,” Kerry said of Putin. “That means he … could very well become a target for those Sunni jihadists.”

Kerry explained: “It’s an opportunity for us to force this question of how you actually resolve the question of Syria. And the bottom line is, you cannot resolve it without including the Sunni(s) in a political solution, a political agreement ultimately, and that will mean that you’re going to have to have some kind of transition, some kind of timing. Because as long as Assad is there, you simply can’t make peace. Period.”

Kerry also said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must leave as part of an “orderly transition,” rather than calling for his immediate ouster, marking a change in the U.S. position.

He added that if Assad left more quickly, it could lead to an “implosion” that would strip the country of any civil life. He added that Assad has a “complete lack of legitimacy” as leader given that three-quarters of Syrians “have already voted with their feet” by moving elsewhere from Assad-ruled territory.

RELATED: Russia’s Syria expedition: Why now and what’s next?

“We need to have an orderly transition, a managed transition, so that you don’t have a fear for retribution, loss of life, revenge,” Kerry said, urging a leadership change over a “reasonable period of time” but declining to be more specific.

Kerry is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly this week as the U.S. met with leaders from Iran and Cuba as well as Russia. Kerry is scheduled to meet throughout the day with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after Russia commenced airstrikes in Syria.

The current secretary of state also pushed back on criticisms that his department has been slow to release works email from his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, who maintained a private email server while working for the State Department.

“We cannibalized the different bureaus to bring people from those bureaus and put them to work to help do this. But it takes an experienced eye to read the cable and know whether or not it should or should not be classified,” Kerry said. “So that’s what we’re doing and I think we will be ahead of the curve.”

Kerry also praised his staff for meticulously going through her work emails in order to prevent classified information from being released.

“We have an obligation to review what is classified information and what is not. And if any other department in the government is mentioned in a particular email it has to go to that department in order for them to be able to clear it. So it’s by nature a cumbersome process,” he said, twice declining to answer whether the exercise was a “sideshow.”

http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/29/politics/john-kerry-putin-assad-syria/

Russia Starts Airstrikes in Syria — But Bombs Not Falling On Islamic State Fighters — Kerry Makes it Clear: Assad Must Go

September 30, 2015

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Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, September 29, 2015.
REUTERS/ALEXEI DRUZHININ/RIA NOVOSTI/KREMLIN

Reuters

Russia launched air strikes in Syria on Wednesday in the Kremlin’s biggest Middle East intervention in decades, but Moscow’s assertion that it had hit Islamic State was immediately disputed by the United States and rebels on the ground.

The air strikes plunged the four-year-old civil war in Syria into a volatile new phase as President Vladimir Putin moved forcefully to assert Russian influence in the unstable region.

Moscow and Washington offered conflicting accounts of which targets had been struck, underlining growing tensions between the two former Cold War foes over Russia’s decision to intervene. Washington is concerned that Moscow is more interested in propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad than in beating Islamic State.

The Russian defense ministry said the strikes targeted military equipment, communication facilities, arms depots, ammunition and fuel belonging to Islamic State.

U.S. officials said targets in the Homs area appeared to have been struck, but not areas held by Islamic State.

Russia warned the United States ahead of the strikes to keep its aircraft out of Syrian airspace, but the United States pressed forward with its campaign of air strikes against Islamic State forces and said it had targeted Islamic State near the Syrian city of Aleppo.

A U.S. official said Moscow gave Washington just an hour’s notice of its strikes, which the Kremlin said were designed to help Assad, its closest regional ally, push back Islamist militants.

Notice of the attack came from a Russian official in Baghdad who asked the U.S. air force to avoid Syrian airspace during the mission, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

In Moscow, Putin said Russian air strikes in Syria would be limited in scope and that he hoped Assad was ready for political reform and a compromise for the sake of his country and people.

“I know that President Assad understands that and is ready for such a process. We hope that he will be active and flexible and ready to compromise in the name of his country and his people,” he told reporters.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington would have “grave concerns” ifRussia hit Syrian targets where Islamic State fighters were not present. Speaking at the U.N. Security Council, Kerry also said the militant group, which is also known as ISIL and ISIS, “cannot be defeated as long as Bashar al-Assad remains president of Syria.”

Striking Homs and opposition groups but not IS showed the Kremlin’s primary aim was to prop up Assad, a French diplomatic source said.

Areas of the province of Homs struck by the Russians are controlled by an array of rebel groups including several operating under the banner of the “Free Syrian Army”, activists, locals and rebels said. None of the sources named Islamic State as one of the groups operating in the areas hit on Wednesday. Assad views all the forces opposing him in the civil war as terrorist groups.

The Homs area is crucial to Assad’s control of western Syria. Insurgent control of that area would bisect the Assad-held west, separating Damascus from the coastal cities of Latakia and Tartous, where Russia operates a naval facility.

Iyad Shamse, leader of an FSA Syrian rebel group, the Asala and Tanmieh Front, told Reuters: “There is no Islamic State in this area. The Russians are applying great pressure on the revolution. This will strengthen terrorism, everyone will head toward extremism. Any support for Assad in this way is strengthening terrorism.”

He put the death toll from the Russian air strikes at 50 civilians, including children.

According to a pro-Syrian government military source, there were “five strikes against five areas in Syria’s Homs.” He said other areas may have been bombed too.

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PROXY WAR

Moscow’s intervention means the conflict in Syria has been transformed in a few months from a proxy war, in which outside powers were arming and training mostly Syrians to fight each other, to an international conflict in which the world’s main military powers except China are directly involved in fighting.

That raises the risks of military accidents between outside powers and raises pressure for a diplomatic solution, without making it any easier.

Russia joined the United States and its Arab allies, Turkey, France, Iran and Israel in direct intervention, with Britain expected to join soon, if it gets parliamentary approval.

Russian jets went into action after the upper house of the Russian parliament gave Putin unanimous backing for strikes following a request for military assistance from Assad.

In a barely concealed jibe at Washington, a spokesman for Putin said later the vote meant Moscow would be practically the only country in Syria to be conducting operations “on a legitimate basis” and at the request of “the legitimate president of Syria”.

The last time the Russian parliament granted Putin the right to use military force abroad, a technical requirement under Russian law, Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine last year.

Putin said Russia’s military involvement in the Middle East would involve only its air force and would be temporary. One of the reasons for getting involved was the need to stop Russian citizens who had joined the ranks of Islamic State from later returning home to cause trouble, he said.

A U.S.-led coalition has already been bombing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But Putin derided U.S. efforts on Monday in a speech at the United Nations, suggesting a broader and more coordinated coalition was needed to defeat the militants.

“The military aim of our operations will be exclusively to provide air support to Syrian government forces in their struggle against ISIS (Islamic State),” Sergei Ivanov, the Kremlin’s Chief-of-Staff, said before reports that the strikes had begun.

Russia has been steadily dispatching more and more military aircraft to a base in Latakia, regarded as an Assad stronghold, after the Syrian government suffered a series of battlefield reverses.

Moscow has already sent military experts to a recently established command center in Baghdad which is coordinating air strikes and ground troops in Syria, a Russian official told Reuters.

Russia’s involvement in Syria will be a further challenge for Moscow, which is already intervening in Ukraine at a time when its own economy is suffering from low oil prices and Western sanctions.

(Additional reporting by Lidia Kelly, Daria Korsunskaya, Alexander Winning, Gabriela Baczynska, Vladimir Soldatkin, Maria Tsvetkova and Tom Perry and Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Sylvia Westall, Jean-Baptiste Vey in Paris, Will Dunham in Washington; Writing by Andrew Osborn and Will Dunham; Editing by Giles Elgood and Frances Kerry)

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Russia Ordered U.S. Out of Syria, After Obama, Putin Meeting at the United Nations — “Putin Did Not Keep His Word” — “Not how responsible nations do business”

September 30, 2015

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Fox News reported Wednesday that Russian officials have demanded that American warplanes “exit Syrian airspace immediately,” according to a senior U.S. official.

The official told Fox News that Russian diplomats sent an official demarche ordering U.S. planes out of Syria, adding that Russian fighter jets were now flying over Syrian territory. U.S. military sources told Fox News that U.S. planes would not comply with the Russian demand.

A “demarche” is a formal diplomatic initiative made by one nation to another.

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By Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson

Published September 30, 2015

FoxNews.com
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Russian warplanes began bombarding Syrian opposition targets in the war-torn nation’s north Wednesday, following a terse meeting at which a Russian general asked Pentagon officials to clear out of Syrian air space and was rebuffed, Fox News has learned.

A U.S. official said Russian airstrikes targeted fighters in the vicinity of Homs, located roughly 60 miles east of a Russian naval facility in Tartus, and were carried out by a “couple” of Russian bombers. The strikes hit targets in Homs and Hama, but there is no presence of ISIS in those areas, a senior U.S. defense official said. These planes are hitting areas where Free Syrian Army and other anti-Assad groups are located, the official said.

Activists and a rebel commander on the ground said the Russian airstrikes have mostly hit moderate rebel positions and civilians. In a video released by the U.S.-backed rebel group Tajamu Alezzah, jets are seen hitting a building claimed to be a location of the group in the town of Latamna in the central Hama province.

The group commander Jameel al-Saleh told a local Syrian news website that the group’s location was hit by Russian jets but didn’t specify the damage.

A group of local activists in the town of Talbiseh in Homs province recorded at least 16 civilians killed, including two children.

According to a U.S. senior official, Presidents Obama and Putin agreed on a process to “deconflict” military operations. The Russians on Wednesday “bypassed that process,” the official said.

“That’s not how responsible nations do business,” the official said.

The development came after Pentagon officials, in a development first reported by Fox News, brushed aside an official request, or “demarche,” from Russia to clear air space over northern Syria, where Moscow said it intended to conduct airstrikes against ISIS on behalf of Assad, according to sources who spoke to Fox News. The request was made in a heated discussion between a Russian three-star general and U.S. officials at the American Embassy in Baghdad, sources said.

“If you have forces in the area we request they leave,” said the general, who used the word “please” in the contentious encounter.

A senior Pentagon official said the U.S., which also has been conducting airstrikes against ISIS, but does not support Assad, said the request was not honored.

“We still conducted our normal strike operations in Syria today,” the official said. “We did not and have not changed our operations.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters the Russian airstrikes won’t change the strategy of the U.S.-led coalition.

“The U.S.-led coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned and in support of our international mission to degrade and destroy ISIL,” Kirby told reporters, while acknowledging the meeting at the American embassy in Baghdad.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told foreign ministers of world powers Wednesday that his country is “ready to forge standing channels of communication to ensure a maximally effective fight against terrorist groups.”

Lavrov spoke to the U.N. Security Council shortly after Russia’s defense ministry announced its jets are carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State group positions in Syria.

Lavrov said Russia would shortly circulate a draft council resolution to promote joint efforts against groups like the Islamic State.

The move by Moscow marks a major escalation in ongoing tensions between the two countries over military action in the war-torn country and comes moments after Russian lawmakers formally approved a request from Putin to authorize the use of troops in Syria. Putin said previously that Russia would strike ISIS targets.

The Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, discussed Putin’s request for the authorization behind the closed doors. Sergei Ivanov, chief of Putin’s administration, said in televised remarks that the parliament voted unanimously to approve the request.

Ivanov said the authorization is necessary “not in order to achieve some foreign policy goals” but “in order to defend Russia’s national interests.”

Putin is obligated to request parliamentary approval for any use of Russian troops abroad, according to the Russian Constitution. The last time he did so was before Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.

Putin’s request comes after his bilateral meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, where the two were discussing Russia’s recent military buildup in Syria.

A U.S. official told Fox News Monday the two leaders agreed to discuss political transition in Syria but were at odds over the role that Assad should play in resolving the civil conflict. The official said Obama reiterated to Putin that he does not believe there is a path to stability in Syria with Assad in power. Putin has said the world needs to support Assad because his military has the best chance to defeat ISIS militants.

Putin said the meeting, which lasted slightly more than 90 minutes, was “very constructive, business-like and frank”.

“We are thinking about it, and we don’t exclude anything,” Putin told reporters at the time

The Kremlin reported that Putin hosted a meeting of the Russian security council at his residence Tuesday night outside of Moscow, saying that they were discussing terrorism and extremism.

On Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on Russia to make a real contribution to the fight against ISIS, telling reporters at the United Nations that Moscow “is against the terrorists, it’s not abnormal to launch strikes against them.”

“The international community has hit (ISIS). France has hit (ISIS), Assad very little, and the Russians not at all. So one has to look at who does what,” Fabius added.

Russia has been a staunch supporter of Assad during Syria’s bloody civil war, and multiple reports have previously indicated that Russian troops are aiding Assad’s forces. Israel’s defense minister also said earlier this month that Russian troops are in Syria to help Assad fight the ISIS terror group.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that Russia’s Foreign Ministry told the news agency Interfax that a recently established operations center in Baghdad would help coordinate airstrikes and ground troops in Syria. Fox News first reported last week that the center had been set up by Russian, Syrian and Iranian military commanders with the goal of working with Iranian-backed Shia militias fighting ISIS.

Over the weekend, the Iraqi government announced that it would begin sharing “security and intelligence” information with Russia, Syria and Iran to help combat ISIS.

Meanwhile, intelligence sources told Fox News Friday that Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani met with Russian military commanders in Baghdad Sept. 22. Fox News reported earlier this month that Soleimani met Putin in Moscow over the summer to discuss a joint military plan in Syria.

Image: Iran’s Qasem Soleimani, Quds Force Commander (Left), Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles (center) and Vladimir Putin

“The Russians are no longer advising, but co-leading the war in Syria,” one intelligence official said at the time.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read the rest:

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/09/30/boots-on-ground-russian-lawmakers-back-putin-sending-troops-to-syria/

******************************

What really went on in that short one-on-one meeting between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the United Nations Monday?

Americans may never know, but since that meeting, it’s becoming apparent who’s in charge in Syria, and it’s not the United States.

Appearing on “Special Report” Tuesday, Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer blamed the unprecedented “utter passivity of the United States” while the Islamic State added 7,000 jihadis to their ranks in the last few months.

“The real story is…what happened at the U.N.,” he said, “Putin essentially stepped in and took over Syria.  He’s now the leader.”

Two weeks ago, U.S. officials were warning that a Russian buildup in Syria was doomed to failure, Krauthammer explained. Now, those same officials have accepted that the Russians are there to stay.

And now Russia is truly calling the shots.

http://www.bizpacreview.com/2015/09/30/krauthammer-slams-obamas-utter-passivity-russia-orders-american-planes-out-of-syria-257932

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Hong Kongers Critical of China’s Apparent Meddling In Academic Matters — Will colleges have to accept political appointees?

September 30, 2015

  • 30 September 2015
Professor Johannes M. Chan addresses the media during a press conference in Hong Kong in 2006
Johannes Chan was rejected even though he had been recommended as pro-vice-chancellor by recruiters. AFP photo

What was supposed to be a routine internal promotion at a top university has morphed into an unprecedented battle for academic freedom in Hong Kong.

Last night, the University of Hong Kong’s governing council voted against giving the pro-vice chancellor position to Johannes Chan, a human rights lawyer.

Mr Chan has a close working relationship with one of the founders of last year’s Occupy Central movement, Benny Tai. The movement led to tens of thousands of people paralysing key parts of the city a year ago, calling for greater democracy.

Billy Fung, head of the Hong Kong Students’ Union and a member of the council, has broken with tradition and explained what was discussed at the closed-door meeting.

Pro-democracy protesters outside the Hong Kong government headquarters on 29 September 2014
Pro-democracy protests drew huge crowds to several locations across Hong Kong in September 2014. EPA photo

‘Nice guy’

In a Facebook post, Mr Fung, who supported the appointment, singled out fellow member Arthur Li, a pro-establishment political appointee to the council, as saying Mr Chan lacked a doctoral degree, which he said was required for the position.

He quoted Mr Li as saying that Mr Chan was made dean of the law school, from 2002 until last year, only because he was a “nice guy”.

Mr Fung said three other members also criticised the former dean.

One, he said, cited a result from Google Scholar, an online search engine for academic research, that apparently showed Mr Chan’s writing had been looked up only four times in the past five years.

Closed-door discussion

“External personnel dominate the composition of the council, with only a few of them truly representing us,” Mr Fung wrote. “History shall surely remember them.”

Of the current 21-member council, more than half were appointed by the pro-China chief executive CY Leung, or chosen by the council itself.

Occupy Central movement co-founder Benny Tai (left) is seen with Joshua Wong (right) and an unnamed woman (centre) during an interview in September 2015, one year on from the start of pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong
Benny Tai, one of the founders of the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement, had a close working relationship with Mr Chan. Joshua Wong at left

Edward Leong Che-hung, chairman of the council and an external appointee, has blasted Mr Fung, calling the leak “deplorable”.

“His action shows his complete disregard and disrespect of the council’s requirement and council member’s pledge of confidentiality,” he said, adding the council would consider possible punishment.

He also described the decision to reject Prof Chan as being in the “long-term interests” of the university, according to a report in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.

‘Self-censorship’ claims

The controversial meeting came almost a year after a selection committee, itself appointed by the council, had recommended Mr Chan for the powerful administrative job.

Sing Ming, an associate professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, believes the reasons given for Mr Chan’s rejection were untenable.

He noted that it was not unusual for the heads of international law schools to be without doctoral degrees.

“The decision has cast the biggest threat to Hong Kong’s academic freedom since 1997,” Mr Sing said referring to the handover of the territory by the British to China.

“Academics will take it as a signal from Beijing that it won’t shy away from getting blunt in targeting liberal-minded and pro-democracy scholars in a blatant manner. The nightmarish outcome would be heightened self-censorship in criticising Beijing.”

The Chinese government has not officially commented on the case. But in recent months, pro-Beijing newspapers have lambasted Mr Chan’s record and his character.

Hong Kong was granted a high degree of autonomy, including academic freedom and judicial independence, by the Beijing government when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-china-blog-34398377

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Russia Begins Airstrikes in Syria — U.S. Says Attacks Supporting Assad, Not Killing Islamic State Fighters

September 30, 2015

Move comes after lawmakers approved President Vladimir Putin’s request to allow military force abroad

Russian lawmakers voted unanimously on Wednesday to let President Vladimir Putin send troops to Syria. A top Kremlin official said the authorization follows a request for military assistance by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Photo: AP.

By Nathan Hodge in Moscow and Gordon Lubold in Washington
The Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin inserted his country directly into Syria’s war Wednesday, as Russian forces launched their first airstrikes against what Moscow said were Islamic State targets in the Middle Eastern nation.

But Western leaders raised doubts about whether Russia really intended to take the fight to Islamic State, or merely broaden the Syrian regime’s offensive against a wide range of other opponents.

Russia has built up forces on the ground in Syria in an effort to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The strikes mark the start of a new phase of the country’s conflict that poses uncertainties for a U.S.-led coalition that has been conducting military operations for a year.

A Russian official in Baghdad told U.S. embassy officials that Russian military aircraft would begin flying the missions Wednesday, State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. “He further requested that U.S. aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during these missions,” he said.

For the U.S., the Russian strikes add new questions about the role of Russian forces in Syria. “While we would welcome a constructive role by Russia in this effort, today’s [meeting in Baghdad] hardly seems indicative of that sort of role and will in no way alter our operations,” a U.S. official said.

Warplanes targeted Islamic State military hardware and weapons stores, a spokesman for Russia’s Ministry of Defense told official news agencies hours after Russian lawmakers approved a request by Mr. Putin to allow the use of force abroad.

Framing the attacks as part of a fight against terrorism, Mr. Putin said that Russia will support the Syrian army from the air, without any ground operations, for the duration of the Syrian offensive.

“The only real way to fight international terrorism…is to act pre-emptively. and not wait till they [terrorists] come to our home,” Mr. Putin said in televised comments. He called for antiterror cooperation with other states through the Russian coordination center in Baghdad.

Russian Su-24 fighter-bomber (file photo)

Su-24 fighter-bomber aircraft are said to have been involved in the strikes

The official Syrian Arab News Agency reported Wednesday that Russian airstrikes hit areas under Islamic State control in Homs and Hama provinces, including the cities of Al Rastan and Talbiseh, near the town of Salamiyah, and the villages of al-Za’faran, al-Humr Hills, Eidoun, Salamiyah and Deir Fol. The strikes had successfully targeted Islamic State, SANA said, without elaborating.

But with the exception of the area east of the town of Salamiyah in Hama province, none of the areas listed by the Syrian regime have a known presence of Islamic State fighters. They are largely dominated by relatively moderate rebel factions and Islamist groups like Ahrar al-Sham and the al Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the “first indications” he had on the Russian strikes is that they weren’t “areas controlled by Da’esh that were targeted,” the Arabic term for Islamic State. However he said information is still coming in and being checked.

At the United Nations General Assembly in New York, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the targets were still unclear.

“They’re the first Russian airstrikes as far as we’re aware so the selection of targets will not have been accidental or random,” he said.

“If they are clearly ISIL targets far away from any regime activity, that will send one signal,” he said. “If they are targets that look more like defense of regime forces than attack in ISIL forces that will send a very different signal.”

The Syrian presidency posted a statement to both its official Facebook page and SANA on Wednesday that said Mr. Assad had sent a letter to Mr. Putin requesting the deployment of Russian air forces to Syria. It didn’t specify when the letter had been sent.

The authorization, which was unanimous, represents something of an about-face for the Kremlin. The Russian government has until now insisted that it was only sending “military specialists” to assist the training of Mr. Assad’s military and the delivery of military hardware.

The Russian government’s moves may clear up potential legal ambiguities raised by the deployment of Russian forces abroad. The government says it is acting in accordance with international law by sending forces at the invitation of Mr. Assad’s government, but some Russian activists have raised concerns about Russia ramping up its involvement in Syria without approving a formal deployment.

Presidential aide Sergei Ivanov said that thousands of Russian citizens and others from the former Soviet Union are fighting on the side of Islamic State, and that many have returned home, presenting a direct threat.

“The point here is not in achieving any foreign policy goals or satisfying ambitions,” Mr. Ivanov said. “We’re talking exclusively about Russia’s national interests.”

Mr. Putin appeared Monday before the U.N. General Assembly, where he called for the creation of a broad front to confront Islamic State. Before his appearance, Iraq said it had reached an intelligence-sharing agreement with Russia, the Syrian regime and Iran, further solidifying an emerging alliance among the four countries.

President Barack Obama says Syria can no longer return to the pre-civil war rule of Mr. Assad after years of bloodshed—a contention that Mr. Putin has dismissed.

Mr. Putin’s intervention is expected to complicate Western efforts in the region, where a U.S. program to train moderate Syrian rebels has faltered and a coalition to counter Islamic State has been moving slowly at best.

The most immediate concern posed by Russia’s military intervention in Syria is the so-called de-confliction of airspace, as the U.S.-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes in Syria for months.

U.S. officials Wednesday reiterated the need for an agreement between Washington and Moscow, whose militaries aren’t in contact with one another, to ensure each other’s aircraft wouldn’t operate in the same airspace.

General of the Army Yury Yakubov, a senior Russian defense official, said the strikes would be carried out with the assistance of the coordination center in Baghdad set up by Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

“Information about the conduct out of airstrikes will be communicated to American representatives in Baghdad as well,” he said.

News of the Russian government’s readiness to carry out strikes drew approval from hawkish Russian lawmakers. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a Duma member and prominent nationalist, called the Kremlin’s move a “decision of global import.”

If Islamic State is not halted in Syria, Mr. Zhirinovsky said in televised remarks, “then it will extend its grip to the south Caucasus and north Caucasus.”

Write to Nathan Hodge at nathan.hodge@wsj.com and Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com

http://www.wsj.com/articles/putin-seeks-parliaments-approval-for-use-of-force-outside-russia-1443600142

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